It's a Kuna Life

Trip Start Oct 10, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Panama  ,
Sunday, March 25, 2007

The San Blas Archipelago is what you imagined Caribbean islands to be: deserted sand islands the size of country backyards, home to the lazily bowing trunks of tall palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze, white sand beaches scattered with tempting coconuts, and crystal clear turquoise water supporting endless gardens of colourful fish and coral. Adam and I spent two days enveloped in the isolation of these islands soaking up their tranquility. As relaxing as the setting was, the real highlight of our trip to San Blas was the interaction with the Kuna people.

With the beauty of the area reaching our ears well before the soles of our feet, we were prepared for a well developed tourist  program. What I've come to realize is that 'well developed' generally means that tourists are herded away from the realities of everyday life. San Blas was a welcome exception; our Kuna host Eulolo made us feel very welcome while simultaneously making us feel as though we had surprised him with our arrival and he'd had only minutes to throw accommodation together for us. This was as authentic an indigenous experience as I have had.

We stayed with Eulolo and his family in a room attached to his house of bamboo walls and a tightly knit dried palm frond roof. Our beds were the same hammocks strung up over dirt floors that the rest of the family used. Our meals were the same egg and cracker breakfast and rice and fish lunch/dinner to which the rest of the family had grown accustomed. And best of all, our bathroom was the same hut on the dock, with a cup and tub of water for a shower, and the simplest toilet drainage system I've ever encountered: hole over ocean.

The rustic conditions were fun, albeit trying at times, and made us feel as though very little had changed on these islands in the 500 years that the Kuna people have called them home. The local men spend their days among the myriad of islands, fishing with nets or string in hand, and collecting the many coconuts that had dropped to the earth the night before. Occasionally we would hear a yelp of glee from their dugout canoes that signified an impressive catch. Returning to the main island late in the day, we spent our evenings meandering through the dirt paths, ducking under the awnings of roof palms, and returning the constant greetings of the local children in whatever language they decided upon, be it Kuna, English, Spanish or even French (of course, any further conversation in anything but Kuna left them with a blank stare).  It was an honour to have the opportunity to explore the homes and lifestyle of the Kuna people.
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